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The case for independence

Updated Tuesday, 30th April 2013

Article five of eight: What are the key arguments in favour of independence?

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Probably the single most important factor can be summed up in the phrase 'the right to political self-determination'; that is, independence is about politics, culture and identity more than economics. It is about a feeling of citizenship or belonging, and so about fairness and equality, than about material gain as a goal in itself. While unionists would claim the UK is an integrated civil state in which all citizens are treated equally, many people in Scotland feel aggrieved at the way they and their social values, often presented as distinctively Scottish values, have been ignored by successive Westminster governments 'out of touch' with Scottish sensibilities, claims that have been levelled to varying degrees at every UK government since 1979. Hence, independence provides a means of re-tuning Scottish government with its society's 'sense of self', ensuring that Scottish needs and values are paramount, more so than devolution which reserves key and important powers (over welfare, business and industry, employment law, immigration and international relations) to London.

The structures and outcomes of improved political representation are the top reasons cited in favour of independence. There are others, including some key social and economic reasons, but each of these is closely related to the first and flows from it. Otherwise, there would be no 'case' for independence. The argument is that 'independence' allows a raft of other social and economic issues to be tackled much more effectively.

Overall, the argument goes, full Scottish self-governance would:

  • provide improved political representation and accountability
  • create a fairer and more equal society
  • be better placed to make the right decisions for Scotland
  • be better placed to protect the (local) economy
  • have a state more in tune with international requirements and obligations.

Improved political representation is not just about parliament and national government reflecting the wishes of the electorate, but about political representation in all public institutions. Small countries such as Iceland and Ireland have already introduced mandatory quotas for their members of parliament, such that 50% in Iceland and 30% in Ireland must be women. The aim is to extend such laws to other public bodies, like health and police boards, local authorities, research councils, etc. Small states are seen as being much better at developing this kind of social accountability than large ones which, in turn, makes national governments more sensitive to local needs and cultures. They are viewed as being 'more progressive' as Dennis Canavan stated in the video in the previous article. The claim is that improved representation will subsequently lead to a more egalitarian and equal society, along the lines of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries, because government will be 'better placed' to make decisions across all issues (from welfare to defence) on a more immediate and local basis than Westminster.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) have argued that UK government is no longer fit-for-purpose in so far as it was designed for Empire and still seeks an international role way beyond its actual contemporary power and needs. An example of this is the perceived requirement to renew a nuclear-armed submarine fleet at an estimated £100 billion, which would cost Scottish taxpayers an £8 billion 'share'. The fleet keeps the UK as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Sweden, Finland, Portugal or Slovenia have no such requirement and take a rightful turn as a temporary member. Alex Salmond also, repeatedly, makes the point that independence would have kept Scotland out of the illegal (and costly, in human and financial terms) war in Iraq. At the same time, the single market of the United Kingdom has been surpassed by the European Union, and the best aspects of the Empire by the Commonwealth. There is also an argument that Scotland will still retain key elements of the Union (the Pound Sterling, the Queen as Head of State, and aspects of British cultural identity) even with independence, so there is little to be actually 'lost', other than a distant and increasingly redundant tier of government and elite politicians who are seen as ‘out of step’ with Scotland. The SNP claim that a new ‘social union’ will be forged allowing the best elements of Britishness to be maintained (for instance UK-wide organisations such as the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency)) and new and better relations to be established not only between Scotland and the rest of the UK, but also with England, Wales and Northern Ireland on an individual basis.

That the Yes Campaign is dominated by the SNP does generate some difficulties. Not everyone who supports independence is an SNP supporter and there are many who will support Scottish independence who are not nationalists of any shape or form. For some Socialists, including some members of the Labour Party, independence is a way of protecting public services, state welfare and of maintaining some kind of commitment to social democracy in Scotland at the very time these are under attack from a UK government eagerly pursuing austerity measures and a more punitive approach to social welfare.

For more on this see the related collection: Independence, social welfare and a fairer Scotland.

Read the next article from the collection

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